1920-1939 | Antisemitism | Palestine | Racism



[ 1 April 1921 ]

On 1 April 1921, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and the highest ranking British soldier in the Empire, penned a revealing telegram to General Sir Walter Congreve, commanding British forces in Palestine. In it, he laid bare his antisemitic and anti-Arab prejudices, opining that ‘the best thing we can do is to clear out of Jewland (sic) as soon as we can and let the Jews run that country as quickly as they can.’ It is interesting to note that at that stage the Jews in Palestine still numbered less than ten percent of the population.

Wilson was convinced that British forces could be better deployed elsewhere across more profitable areas of the Empire, and as a Zionist as well as an anti-Semite, he felt that powerful global Jewish interests could best ensure the establishment of a pro-European Jewish cultural and economic bulwark in the Middle East, which would conform closely to Britain’s economic and strategic objectives. Congreve heartily agreed, responding that he also felt that Palestine was ‘a beastly country and most unpopular with the soldiers.’1

A year to the day earlier, the general had written to the Field Marshal expressing his exasperation with the local population: ‘I dislike them all equally, Arabs, Jews and Christians in Syria and Palestine, they are all alike, a beastly people, the whole lot of them not worth one Englishman.’  His views on Palestine’s Jewish population were particularly damning. ‘It is difficult,’ he explained to Wilson, ‘to dissociate the theory of Zionism from the actual man on the spot who is anything but attractive and when you add the complicity of the Jews in Bolshevism and the centuries of aversion to Jews born in us it is hardly to be expected that private feeling can be pro-Jew.’2

The Field Marshal was no less antisemitic.  On 26 April 1921, Wilson confided to Congreve that the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann had visited him ‘in a state of excitement’ with a ‘great file of charges’ and that he had replied angrily, asking ‘what the hell he meant by coming complaining to me about three miseries of Jews having been shot when I belonged to a country where the British Government allowed loyal citizens to be shot at the rate of half a dozen a day ! I said that after he had had one hundred years of that he could come back and make his complaints, pending which he had better get out and mind his own business.’3


  1. Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson and General Sir Walter Congreve cited in Tom Segev, One Palestine Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate, Abacus, London, 2014, p. 147.
  2. Congreve to Wilson, 1 April 1920, cited in Keith Jeffery ( editor ), The Military Correspondence of Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson 1918-1922, The Bodley Head, London, 1985, p. 157.
  3. Wilson to Congreve, 26 April 1920, cited in Keith Jeffery ( editor ), The Military Correspondence of Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, 1918-1922, The Bodley Head, London, 1985, p. 166.

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